Despite its name, the breed is primarily a Retriever, utilised in collecting game birds from the surface of lakes and flushing birds from the bush for the hunter to shoot. With a lineage that is believed to date back to the Stone or Bronze Age, the Irish Water Spaniel is an ancient breed, thought to have developed from the Poodle, Portugese Water Dog and the Curly-Coated Retriever. It is rumoured that Sir Robert Cecil gifted an Irish Water Spaniel to the King of France in 1598. Made popular in the United States in the 1800s, the breed was widely used as a duck retriever, capable of working both land and water. Considered a rare breed today, the Irish Water Spaniel was officially recognised by the AKC in 1884.
A dog of medium-sized build, the Irish Water Spaniel boasts a robust frame with straight legs, a long, square muzzle, a low-set tail, deep chest and dark eyes. The dense double coat is tightly curled and oily, helping to repel water whilst enabling the dog to dry off quickly. It also serves as adequate insulation in cold water and as protection from bracken when working difficult terrain. Further characterising the breed is its webbed feet, adapting it to water crawling, as well as its topknot of curls on the top of its head. Commonly coloured liver, the Irish Water Spaniel's natural colouration is unlike that of any other breed.
Naturally energetic and enthusiastic in exercise and play, the Irish Water Spaniel is well suited to the active family lifestyle. Vigilant to change and threat, the breed is fiercely protective of its family and master, devoted to children and compatible with other house pets when introduced gradually. The Irish Water Spaniel is both intelligent and responsive, rendering it highly trainable in any home setting. The average Water Spaniel weighs 20-30 kg, with a life expectancy of 10-12 years, although it is not uncommon for the breed to outlive this expectancy.
The Irish Water Spaniel is not prone to any serious genetic or hereditary diseases. As with most breeds, cases of hip and elbow dysplasia are documented in the breed. Additionally, the Water Spaniel is susceptible to various eye disorders, including entropion and cataracts, as well as ear infections related to water submergence. Cases of epilepsy and hair loss are also observed.